Clayton Kershaw is baseball royalty. He deserves that status; years of being the best pitcher in the game have granted him that status. He’s not perfect royalty though, and his playoff blemishes have seen to that. Still, deep down everyone knows that the playoffs have been an aberration for the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander and shouldn’t take that much away from his legacy. Baseball royalty is earned and hard to lose after all.
If only the above were actually true. Kershaw is baseball royalty, only people knock him down a severe amount thanks to the long-running “Kershaw falters in the playoffs” narrative. To be clear, Kershaw has faltered in the playoffs on too many occasions. He has to wear his failures just the same as he does his successes. There are folx in baseball who cannot see beyond Kershaw’s playoff failures. Even as he barrels towards an all-time great career and a surefire place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame he is a player many define by his playoff failures.
No failure has loomed as large as that of Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. He left the game having squandered a pair of three-run Los Angeles leads after having been battered by a relentless Houston Astros offense. It was a game where the ace of his generation could have sent his team home with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to bag an elusive title. Instead, Kershaw left the game with his playoff failing narrative firmly intact. For the past few years, fans and pundits alike latched onto that narrative and each new failure cemented it as true.
It’s now 2020 and the entire world knows that the Astros were cheating in 2017. We know that they were electronically stealing signs throughout the regular season. Nothing concrete has been established about the Astros cheating during the playoffs. However, context and common sense lead to the obvious conclusion that they were cheating throughout the playoffs as well.
This past week Kershaw’s performance in Game 5 added to that context. One of the best pitchers on the planet with one of the greatest breaking ball repertoires the baseball world has ever seen failed to register a single swing-and-miss on any of the 51 breaking balls he threw during the game.
Maybe the Astros were simply on Kershaw that game, it’s easy to see that as a possibility when Kershaw’s other playoff failures and the Astros offensive firepower are taken into account. That eliminates all the evidence we have of the Astros cheating throughout the season. It removes Kershaw’s inherent greatness from the equation. Those things simply can’t be done. Kershaw has admitted that he didn’t use multiple signs for his pitches in Game 5. We’ve seen the video evidence of Astros hitters teeing off like they knew the pitchers Kershaw was throwing. The only logical conclusion is that they did know what Kershaw was throwing.
None of this means that the Astros still wouldn’t have won the World Series that year. It doesn’t mean that Kershaw would have won the game either. That doesn’t matter, what matters is that when given a chance to change the narrative surrounding him and cement his place as a legend of the game Kershaw was possibly denied by a cheating scandal.
Looking back on it now it’s easy to see why Kershaw was hit so hard and why he struggled to put away any Astros hitters. It’s not as easy to see what might have happened, but the reality is that Kershaw earned zero percent of the addition to his “bad in the playoffs” narrative that his performance in this game garnered. Game 5 could have been the day that Kershaw put his playoff demons to bed once and for all. Thanks to the Astros, the narrative remains. Clayton Kershaw is baseball royalty, even if his throne was stolen.